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Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of April 27

Gov. Ron DeSantis had a good week. Sen. Rick Scott did not.

There were sprouts of hope shooting up from the rubble of the past several weeks.

Florida is starting a cautious and prudent reopening of the state, which is good news.

There was the word that the drug remdesivir is proving effective in some cases as a treatment for COVID-19. Anthony Fauci, the most trusted man in America now, said the drug has a “clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery.”

Yowza!

Pro sports teams are developing plans to return to the fields and courts, which is another good sign.

Maybe it’s safe to at least peek from under the covers.

Meanwhile, the business of pointing out winners and losers rolls on.

Let’s get to it.

Honorable mention: Ultimate Fight Championship fans. Entertainment-starved people got some good news. The UFC announced plans to stage events in Jacksonville later this month.

Fans can’t attend in person, but the competition will be available on pay per view. And Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he believes that cooped-up people just need some entertainment.

He’s not wrong.

Hey, any port in a storm, right?

The almost (but not quite) biggest winner: State parks and Pinellas beaches: They will reopen Monday following the shutdown for the COVID-19 pandemic.

In making the announcement, DeSantis said that parks are among the places of “low risk.”

“Sunlight kills the virus quickly,” DeSantis said. “When you’re talking about open spaces, that’s a low-risk environment … high reward for the people of Florida.”

Beaches reopen Monday in Pinellas County at 7 a.m. without some of the restrictions seen in other parts of Florida. For instance, beachgoers will be allowed to bring chairs and coolers. But they will have to maintain social distancing, and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said officers will be watching.

But there can only be one at the top.

The Biggest Winner: Gov. Ron DeSantis. Florida’s Governor might have enjoyed his most consequential week since taking office. DeSantis has taken his share of hard knocks for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the needle started pointing upward.

He had a meeting at the White House with Trump about reopening Florida for business. That conclave appeared to go so well that DeSantis now seems fully cemented again as Trump’s BFF. That status, as we know, can be short-lived. But Trump desperately needs DeSantis now, and Florida needs all the help Washington can provide.

DeSantis made it clear that while Florida will reopen, it will be done cautiously. That puts him in stark contrast with states that seem to be in a hurry to wish the virus away (cough, Georgia, cough).

The unemployment fiasco is a long way from solved, but DeSantis turned the fury for that failed system on its creator — former Gov. Rick Scott (more on him later). The Governor called for an investigation into the gawd-awful $77 million computer system that Scott put in place seven years ago to handle unemployment claims.

DeSantis first said the system was designed to fail. On Friday, he told reporters the system is “in tatters.” And the Governor is going to make darned sure that Floridians know who is to blame for that.

But now we move to the other side of the week.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Margaret Good. She could have been a rising star among Democrats. Now, she seems to be one of those people who make you go, “Hmmmm?”

She’s running a disjointed campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. That’s a tough draw. And she probably didn’t do herself any favors by parting ways with Kevin Lata, her now-former campaign manager. Lata was widely praised for helping Good upset Republican James Buchanan in a state House district special election in 2018.

After Good first tapped Lata, national Republicans had dismissed Lata as a Bernie Sanders-loving “socialist.” But in Florida circles, Lata widely enjoyed credit for Good’s victory in flipping a red district blue. That included raising $1 million for a candidate running in a district Donald Trump won by 4 points.

Good’s new campaign manager is Alex Koren, who is unfamiliar with Florida politics and has never managed a winning Congressional campaign. Couple this with a series of fundraising blunders and, well, that’s how you wind up on this list. The only campaign manager gig on Koren’s resume appears to be running the high-profile campaign for ex-CIA operative Valerie Plame in New Mexico.

After Good replaced Lata with out-of-state flak Koren, the Republican Party of Florida was quick with a fresh shot.

“Margaret Good’s new campaign manager jumped ship from another campaign in New Mexico just six weeks before their primary election. Or was he fired?” the RPOF wrote.

Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Airbnb. DeSantis’ cautious approach to reopening Florida was not good news for vacation rental outfits like Airbnb and HomeAway. The monthlong ban on vacation rentals in homes and condominiums will continue until the initial phase has proved successful.

The task force DeSantis assembled to plan for the reopening suggested the ban might be lifted in Phase 2, but with restrictions. It recommends allowing rentals only to Florida residents and prohibiting rentals to international travelers or those from a state or city with a substantial spread of COVID-19.

That’s a setback, for sure. But there can only be one at the bottom.

The biggest loser: U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. You have to give Florida’s former Governor credit for one thing — he is consistent. Consistently tone-deaf.

The architect of Florida’s disastrous unemployment system now questions if government aid to laid-off serfs, uh, workers during this crisis is too generous. The Wall Street Journal reported that when money from the stimulus package adds to state unemployment benefits, people can make more money by not working. Scott sprung into action.

“This is a big problem that I’ve been warning about for weeks now,” Scott tweeted.

“If given the chance to make more on a government program than in a job, some will make the rational and reasonable decision to delay going back to work, hampering our economic recovery.”

Is this a good time to bring up the fact that under Scott, Florida treated the unemployed like they had cholera. The maximum unemployment “benefit” remains at $275 a week, and no one is getting rich on the state’s $8.56 per hour minimum wage.

It makes you wonder if this man has any empathy at all for those at the bottom end of the food chain. Actually, you don’t need to wonder. It’s readily apparent.

Written By

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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